The new reality for executives is leading at a distance

Leading cover final hi res

We are able to say with conviction: The future will function extra digital work, not much less. Some firms will go to one of many extremes—both minimizing distant work to get as near the best way issues had been earlier than the pandemic, or shedding all vestiges of in-office work with the attendant commuting, enterprise journey, and relocations. However most organizations will discover themselves someplace within the center in a hybrid mannequin. On this future, a key driver of organizational success shall be how efficient leaders are in leading at a distance.

For David Solomon, Goldman Sachs CEO, the longer term is much less about “going again to the best way issues had been,” and extra about shifting ahead. “With our workplace interactions and the entire methods we are going to function, the important thing message is that we’ll have extra flexibility in the best way we’ll work,” he mentioned. “It is way more highly effective speaking about this in a forward-looking manner than attempting to get ‘again to regular.’”

On the Starbucks headquarters, pushed by a company-wide mindset of innovation and agility, the corporate has fully reimagined the best way workers each work and function of their office. Whereas their people had been working from dwelling, a year-long building venture was launched to create “a central gathering place the place people work together, construct relationships, [and] propagate a tradition of connection.”

Determining how briskly and the way far you’re prone to go on this spectrum of digital work will largely be a operate of the sector through which you’re employed, however different components will play a function, too. Let’s discover a few of them.



A McKinsey future-of-work examine confirms that distant work is prone to be extra prevalent in industries corresponding to expertise, finance, insurance coverage, {and professional} providers. Individuals whose work includes bodily touching merchandise will largely proceed to be on-site. As Carol Tomé, CEO of UPS acknowledged, most of her firm’s 500,000+ employees are front-line workers delivering packages or working in sorting amenities world wide. Whereas there’ll proceed to be large innovation in how important employees do their jobs, they are going to stay out on the world’s roads or within the air delivering the packages—and within the course of, serving to many people stay and make money working from home. Many different firms even have important features that may’t be completed remotely.

Regardless of advances in automation and robotics, most of these jobs will not be going to be distant anytime quickly. Nor will lots of the healthcare professionals, cable and telecom engineers, or many vitality or manufacturing facility employees.


Regardless of the variety of ladies who exited the workforce throughout the pandemic, we hope that the highway forward will deliver fewer exits and extra reentry as issues get again to some semblance of normalcy. Nevertheless, essentially the most regarding side of this shift would be the long-term impression on range and gender fairness at work. An article in Time journal talks about this disturbing development: 885,000 ladies left the workforce over a few intervals of a number of months in 2020, whereas solely 216,000 males exited throughout that very same interval. As well as, one in 4 ladies are reducing again on hours or altering roles to ones which might be much less demanding. The long-term penalties of this are unknown, after all, however there is nothing good about them. Fewer ladies within the workforce will increase gender pay gaps and the shortage of range in senior govt roles.


What’s going to enterprise journey appear like within the new regular? Whereas solutions to this query differ extensively, it has turn into obvious to many senior leaders that journey is not all the time needed and that they might be way more selective about when to journey sooner or later. A McKinsey report that examined the way forward for enterprise journey predicts that regional and home journey will possible return first, and that in-person gross sales or consumer conferences will take priority over inside conferences. Projections by a number of airways estimate that roughly a quarter of pre-pandemic enterprise journey shall be misplaced for the long-term, if not for good. Southwest Airways CEO Gary Kelly told CNBC that the corporate shall be specializing in leisure fliers as a result of it is prone to be 10 years earlier than enterprise journey returns to pre-pandemic ranges.


When Darleen wrote her preliminary ebook in 2010, she interviewed executives from firms that had been utilizing Telepresence, which at that point was Cisco’s modern (and costly) videoconferencing platform. Many leaders lamented that whereas Telepresence was nice, it was not extensively accessible, usually reserved for senior executives. Since then, developments in expertise have continued to alter how we work. Zoom, Groups, Webex, and Blue Denims at the moment are widespread family names, and these platforms have powered hundreds of thousands of distant employees and kids engaged in distance studying. On-line collaboration websites like Miro, Mural, and Notion have enhanced innovation and knowledge sharing for distant workers.

Leading at a Distance by James M. Citrin and Darleen DeRosa

What’s going to expertise appear like within the subsequent decade? Know-how firms will proceed to give attention to enhancing the consumer expertise with videoconferencing. Whereas these instruments facilitate how we work, in addition they will be cognitively draining. Will firms proceed to construct platforms that make it simpler for individuals to drop into a digital water cooler or café to have a casual dialogue? Some expertise firms are persevering with to develop Digital Reality software program to imitate the workplace area atmosphere. Organizations are experimenting with gamification to foster collaboration and enjoyable, and to assist ship management growth to a distant workforce.



Writing within the Atlantic in October 2020, Amanda Mull contended that “Generation Work-From-Home May Never Recover.” She argued that many individuals just like the construction, routine, focus, and socialization offered by workplaces. She noticed that some individuals worth strict boundaries between their work and private lives. Some individuals favor to go away work at work; others have residing conditions (small residences, noisy roommates or companions) that make it extraordinarily inconvenient to work remotely. The pandemic introduced all of those points to the fore—and as workplaces reopen, there are some individuals who will completely need to return. In the event that they work at firms that resolve to go all-remote, the percentages are they are going to discover someplace else to work.


Our personal analysis clearly confirms the rise in digital work. Throughout the sectors that lend themselves to distant work, some organizations, corresponding to Fb, Twitter, Zillow, and Shopify, are specializing in very versatile work-from-home choices. However many different organizations shall be implementing hybrid fashions. Verizon chief human assets officer Christy Pambianchi illustrates the shift sooner or later state: “We gained’t return to the workplace the identical manner; we’ll return to geographic hubs.” But different firms, like Dropbox, are delicate to the challenges that include this hybrid mannequin and have already put a stake within the floor by making its workforce digital first. Which means that its 3,000 workers will work remotely more often than not however typically go into an workplace, which they’re calling “Dropbox Studios.” Dropbox opted to forgo a hybrid construction that may create an uneven taking part in area amongst workers. The Dropbox Studios are for collaboration and gatherings, or collaborative areas the place individuals can interact with colleagues.

We already touched on the distinctive challenges that include this hybrid mannequin. As extra firms embrace it, we count on new challenges will come up. Amongst them:

  • There is a plethora of analysis on the significance of psychological security at work, and we imagine that creating this security will turn into much more necessary because the hybrid strategy grows. It might turn into tougher to detect a lack of psychological security in a digital setting, and leaders must be extra deliberate about this when some workers are within the workplace and others are at dwelling. Leaders must give attention to creating an equitable tradition the place individuals really feel protected talking up, voicing issues, and feeling comfy making errors.
  • Cliques or subgroups type in bodily workplaces, and they’re going to turn into extra evident in all-remote or hybrid cultures, too. To keep away from the issues this could create, leaders should establish subgroups which may be forming, and take steps to keep away from the erosion of belief they’ll create. In a hybrid mannequin, when workforce members start leaving distant workforce members out of discussions, collaboration and belief will endure.
  • One of many greatest issues from workers about not being within the workplace is that “out of sight is out of thoughts.” If organizations are selling a hybrid mannequin, it is essential to make sure that leaders deal with individuals equitably. Do in-office workers get promoted extra or obtain extra initiatives since they’re “prime of thoughts” to their boss? If leaders are severe about telecommuting and a hybrid mannequin, they need to mannequin this by working from dwelling a part of the time.
  • In a hybrid tradition, the place individuals aren’t required to be within the workplace usually, fears might come up that individuals who go in additional steadily will get pleasure from profession benefits. As Jane Datta from NASA articulated, “the chance is the hybrid atmosphere the place you lose the actual advantages of being collectively and 
create a two-class system within the assembly the place the individuals on display aren’t actually collaborating as totally.” To move off these issues, HR leaders ought to monitor charges of promotion and profession development for workers working totally distant, totally within the workplace, and within the hybrid mannequin. This can assist guarantee a fair taking part in area and allay any fears.
  • Some individuals will cut back their engagement in the event that they’re working remotely too usually. Along with monitoring promotion charges, measure worker engagement over time to look at variations within the hybrid mannequin. Our Spencer Stuart colleagues at Kincentric suggest periodic pulse surveys to watch engagement and see what is working nicely and what will be improved.

Kathleen Hogan, chief individuals officer at Microsoft, raised a essential level about what many leaders have realized from the distant work expertise. “As soon as we’re within the promised land of being protected to come back again to work,” she mentioned, “I feel this all shall be higher in that we’ll have navigated this unbelievable interval, and we’ll cherish being in individual collectively. However we can have discovered that it doesn’t should be 5 days a week within the workplace, the best way we used to.”

For extra from Leading at a Distance, please try this excerpt on

Excerpted from the ebook Leading at a Distance. Copyright © 2021 by Spencer Stuart Worldwide Eire Restricted. The ebook was printed on Could 25, 2021, by John Wiley & Sons. Reprinted by permission.